Drug Topics' Editor Harold Cohen makes a case for legalizing medical marijuana.
A few weeks ago the U.S. Supreme Court let stand an appeals court decision that doctors may not be threatened or punished if they discuss the use of medicinal marijuana with their patients. I applaud the Supreme Court's decision and cannot understand why everyone doesn't agree with it. After all, marijuana has long been recognized as adjunctive therapy in treating conditions like severe pain and nausea, especially in cancer patients receiving chemotherapy.
While under the current law physicians cannot be punished for discussing the use of medicinal marijuana as a therapy option with their patients, marijuana still remains an illegal substance in this country, and, of course, doctors cannot prescribe it. I understand the emotions people have when they hear the word marijuana. It conjures up images of illegal drug smuggling and unsavory characters in dark alleys. Never mind that the reality is, despite its illegal status, it is readily available in most cities throughout this country.
Of course I do not, and will not, condone legalizing marijuana for recreational use, but I see no reason why a substance that apparently offers suffering patients relief is not legalized for its medicinal properties. I don't understand why we as a society cannot elevate marijuana to drug status like so many other controlled substances being used to treat serious conditions. And I can think of no healthcare professional more qualified to control and dispense medicinal marijuana than the pharmacist.
Obviously pharmacists handle a lot more dangerous and addictive drugs than marijuana. Like any new drug, marijuana would require some education on its administration, side effects, and adverse reactions. Another argument I hear often is that pharmacists are concerned that if marijuana were to be legalized, it would increase their crime risk. This fear is even more farfetched than the one of handling dangerous and possibly addictive drugs. Does anyone really believe that thugs who rob drugstores will find stealing marijuana more desirable than oxycodone or any other Class II narcotic?
Undoubtedly there would have to be controls attached to marijuana dispensing and where the weed would be grown and harvested. But again, how much different would it be from licensed manufacturing facilities that mass-produce Class II narcotics? If the fear is that there are not enough case studies to warrant its widespread use, then let's get some clinical trials going so that we have some hard data to make a rational decision. If they don't pan out, so be it, but let's not just dismiss a possibly useful drug because it has a negative criminal connotation. After all, alcohol probably kills more people on the highway than marijuana, but, aside from the age restriction, it is about as available as bottled water.
Healthcare professionals are in the business of administering care to the sick and compassion and comfort to the dying. Why deny those patients the right to a drug that could make their illness more tolerable or make them more comfortable in the last days of their life? If the clinical trials prove positive, I say to the FDA, it is OK for patients to inhale.
Harold Cohen. Cohen's Corner: A closer look at marijuana. Drug Topics Dec. 8, 2003;147:16.